Science on trial! - Italian scientists sentenced to jail because they underestimated earthquake risks

Science on trial! - Italian scientists sentenced to jail because they underestimated earthquake risks

Six Italian scientists and a government official were sentenced to six years in jail on October 22 for multiple manslaughter because they underestimated the risks of a deadly M6.3 earthquake that struck L'Aquila in 2009. An Italian court has found scientists directly responsible for 29 of the 309 deaths. They remain free until they have exhausted two chances to appeal the verdict. They must pay more than 9 million euros (almost $12 million)  to survivors in the devastated medieval town of L'Aquila. Verdict also includes permanent exclusion from public office.

All defendants, members of Major Risks Committee, met in L'Aquila  after a series of small tremors. It was six days before the quake devastated the region. According to accusation, they failed to alert the population of L'Aquila to the risks, for providing "an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken" analysis, which reassured locals and led many to stay indoors when the first tremors hit. Deputy director of the Civil Protection agency at the time, Bernardo De Bernardinis, gave press interviews saying the seismic activity in L'Aquila posed "no danger".

The convicts are: Franco Barberi, head of Serious Risks Commission; Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics; Giulio Selvaggi, director of National Earthquake Centre; Gian Michele Calvi, director of European Centre for Earthquake Engineering; Claudio Eva, physicist; Mauro Dolce, director of the Civil Protection Agency's earthquake risk office; Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of Civil Protection Agency's technical department.

"I am crestfallen, desperate. I thought I would be acquitted. I still don't understand what I'm accused of," Enzo Boschi, the head of Italy's National Geophysics Institute (INGV) at the time.

"We cannot call this a victory. It's a tragedy, whatever way you look at it, it won't bring our loved ones back." Aldo Scimia, whose mother was killed

The entire leadership of Italy’s National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks (disaster-warning agency) resigned in act of protest.

Science community shocked!

This case has sparked outrage in the international science community which argue that all science was being put on trial. Over 5,000 members of the scientific community sent an open letter to President Giorgio Napolitano denouncing the trial against colleagues for failing to predict a quake - a feat widely acknowledged to be impossible.

The current INGV head Stefano Gresta  wonder what scientist will want to express his opinion knowing that he could finish in prison?
"We are deeply concerned. It's not just seismology which has been put on trial but all science!"  Charlotte Krawczyk, president of the seismology division at the European Geosciences Union (EGU)

Defendants: Gian Michele Calvi, head of the European Centre of Earthquake Engineering , Bernardo De Bernardinis, deputy director of the Civil Protection agency at the time, Enzo Boschi, the head of Italy's National Geophysics Institute (INGV) at the time, Giulio Selvaggi, head of the INGV's National Earthquake Centre in Rome, Franco Barberi from Rome's University Three and Claudio Eva from the University of Genoa.

The M6.3 earthquake at the relatively shallow depth of 9.46 kilometres (5.88 miles) struck L'Aquila on April 6,2009. It was caused by movement on a NW-SE trending normal fault according to moment tensor solutions. The epicentral region saw dozens of significant aftershocks following the main earthquake. The strongest measured magnitude 5.3 on April 7, 2009 and caused further damage. There have been several thousand foreshocks and aftershocks since December 2008, more than thirty of which had a Richter magnitude greater than M3.5.

L'Aquila is built on the bed of an ancient lake, providing a soil structure that amplifies seismic waves. The city was struck by earthquakes in 1315, 1349, 1452, 1501, 1646, 1703, and 1706. The earthquake which struck L'Aquila in 1703, caused devastation across much of central Italy and killed around 5,000 people.

Earlier warning

Italian laboratory technician Giampaolo Giuliani predicted a major earthquake on Italian television a month before, after measuring increased levels of radon emitted from the ground. Predicting earthquakes based on radon emissions has been studied by scientists since the 1970s, but enthusiasm for it had faded due to inconsistent results. Giuliani was accused of being alarmist by the Director of the Civil Defence, Guido Bertolaso, and forced to remove his findings published online. He was also reported to police a week before the main quake for "causing fear" among the local population.

Giuliani presented his research in December 2009 to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco that invited him to take part in developing a worldwide seismic early warning system.

Scientists said that there is no risk for earthquake, but even if they said that there is a risk, people would died anyway. Nobody can predict earthquakes and scientific community still trying to find mechanisms that could help predicting earthquakes but for now there are no exact models or precursors. So, in a way, this verdict is absolutely absurdly - to prosecute scientists because they expressed they opinion about something that cannot be predicted.

The 2009 L'Aquila earthquake by John Elliot - Analysis


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Tags: l'aquila


ruby 8 years ago

Even though it may seem that there is no way to predict an earthquake, there is, scientists can monitor the earth and there had be numerous pre-shocks.

Alison 8 years ago

This is not the real story.

ana fayet 9 years ago


samosamo 9 years ago

I, as did others who have commented about this, too was outraged by the court's verdicts and punishment. The is no way anyone can predict an earthquake. And to be prosecuted and persecuted for this impossible 'crime' is totally unwarranted. LET THOSE PEOPLE OUT and return their money they were fined. Geez, I thought america was crazy, italy takes the cake now. If you live in an earthquake or volcano active area, you do so at your own risk. Serves Italy right if an earthquake breaks the boot of italy in half.

Martin Foster 9 years ago

The Pope should be prosecuted for not prayerfully enough protecting Italy.

John Berbatis 9 years ago

To all Earth Lovers, In early 1998, I warned the UN, USA, UK & Oz of the consequences of the contamination, the destruction & the human over-population of the biosphere (Pole Shift). Since then... lots of unproductive discussion & debate and inappropriate remedial action for the environment. The leaders of the world are tasked by the people to protect their citizens; but they were reckless with our lives, and are subsequently guilty of criminal negligence. Soon... there will be no more dissension on the matter of 'environmental care'. Regards, John Berbatis Perth, Australia Checkout online; Biosphere collapse - Peak Oil Oct. 22, 2012 in last 30 days 7000 earthquakes & 67 volcanoes erupting.

Rocky 9 years ago

Insanity is the only words that could be used to describe the prosecution. The fact that the sheeple in the country are sitting by and allowing this to transpire is so weird!!!! This reminds us of the same reasoning they used to lock up people for saying the earth orbits the sun!

Nic 9 years ago

Absurd, is an understatement. It would have been more appropriate to travel South-West from L’Aquila and sue those of whom it is said, have a direct line to the 'Big Guy for not sounding a warning – ‘they must have known…….

jason 9 years ago

This is retarded!!!! Sentenced to jail?! the judge and jury should lynched!!!

ana fayet (@jason) 9 years ago

totally agree!

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